Ahead of the World TB Day 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that over half a million more people may have died from tuberculosis (TB) in 2020, simply because they were unable to obtain diagnosis.
According to preliminary data compiled by the WHO from over 80 countries, an estimated 1.4 million people received care for TB in 2020, which is a reduction of 21 per cent from 2019. The countries with the biggest relative gaps were Indonesia (42 per cent), South Africa (41 per cent), Philippines (37 per cent) and India (25 per cent).
World TB Day is observed on March 24 each year to raise awareness and understanding about one of the world’s top killer infectious diseases, and catalyse action to address its devastating health, social, and economic impact around the world.
Director-General, WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “The effects of COVID-19 go far beyond the death and disease caused by the virus itself. The disruption to essential services for people with TB is just one tragic example of the ways the pandemic is disproportionately affecting some of the world’s poorest people, who were already at higher risk for TB.
“These sobering data point to the need for countries to make universal health coverage a key priority as they respond to and recover from the pandemic, to ensure access to essential services for TB and all diseases.”
According to the WHO, building up health systems so everyone can get the services they need is key. Some countries have already taken steps to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on service delivery by strengthening infection control, expanding use of digital technologies to provide remote advice and support, and providing home-based TB prevention and care.
To the global health body, “This is not a new problem. Before COVID-19 struck, the gap between the estimated number of people developing TB each year and the annual number of people officially reported as diagnosed with TB was about three million. The pandemic has greatly exacerbated the situation.”
The WHO said one way to address this is through restored and improved TB screening to rapidly identify people with the infection or disease.
“New guidance issued by WHO on World TB Day aims to help countries identify the specific needs of communities, the populations at highest risk of TB, and the locations most affected to ensure people can access the most appropriate prevention and care services. This can be achieved through a more systematic use of screening approaches that employ novel tools.
“These include the use of molecular rapid diagnostic tests, use of computer-aided detection to interpret chest radiography and the use of a wider range of approaches for screening people living with Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) for TB. An operational guide to facilitate rollout accompanies the recommendations,” Ghebreyesus said.
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